US ratchets up dispute with Venezuela's Maduro at WTO body

The United States on Tuesday blocked a meeting of the World Trade Organization's dispute body, gumming up its operations over the Trump administration refusal to recognize the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.

The U.S. delegation refused to approve the agenda of the Dispute Settlement Body, which was to take up several issues, including a Venezuelan effort to lift U.S. sanctions and measures against Maduro's government and entourage.

Approval of the DSB agenda requires consensus, and is usually a formality. Such a postponement is rare, and the move amounts to a new U.S. tactic to ratchet up pressure against Maduro's government.

The United States and dozens of other countries, mostly in Latin America and Europe, have recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's acting president.

"Because the Maduro regime is not the legitimate government of Venezuela, Maduro's representatives are not the legitimate representatives of a WTO Member," said a statement e-mailed from the United States mission in Geneva. "Therefore, neither the agenda item nor the panel request would legitimately be before the DSB."

The steps by the United States meant a delay in consideration of other trade disputes on the agenda, such as cases involving anti-dumping measures on imports of steel from Russia and duties on air conditioners from Thailand.

The United States has already used the Geneva-based trade body's requirement for consensus to press its interests: Washington — under both Trump and his predecessor, Barack Obama — has impeded appointments to fill vacancies at the WTO's Appellate Body, a sort of appeals court that follows up on cases initially heard by the DSB.

A Geneva trade official said the last time he could recall such a postponement over an agenda dispute dated back to 1999.